Hatton (43-0) retains crown with knockout of Castillo

6/24/2007 - Boxing

LAS VEGAS -- All along, it figured to be a battle of vicious body punchers: Ricky Hatton, the relentless British banger, and Jose Luis Castillo, the Mexican who learned his trademark left hook as a longtime sparring partner for Julio Cesar Chavez, perhaps the greatest body puncher of them all.

That's just how it turned out, with a dominant Hatton, the younger, fresher fighter, knocking out Castillo with a brutal shot to the ribs in the fourth round to retain the world junior welterweight championship at the Thomas & Mack Center on Saturday night.

It was a stunning and quick end to the fight, but the rocking crowd of 13,044 didn't care. Most of the fans had traveled halfway across the world from Hatton's native England, and they celebrated the victory as though it was New Year's Eve.

Throughout the entire card, they chanted and sang songs while a band high in the stands blared trumpets and banged drums as if at a soccer game. And when Hatton jumped on the ropes after his victory, the arena erupted in a deafening roar.

In the fourth round, referee Joe Cortez deducted a point from Castillo (55-8-1, 47 KOs) for hitting Hatton with a low blow. He had been warned earlier in the fight when both fighters were trying to establish their body attacks.

Moments after the deduction, Hatton (43-0, 31 KOs) landed his own body blow. But it wasn't low. It was directly on Castillo's rib cage and he went down to a knee, grimacing in pain as Cortez reached 10 at 2:16.

"Head first, left hook, left hook, and that's what finished him," Hatton said.

Castillo appeared more embarrassed than hurt by the knockout.

"It was a perfect shot," the former two-time lightweight champion said. "He got me with a perfect shot, right to the ribs. I couldn't breathe. I couldn't get up. It was a perfect shot, that's all I can say."

Hatton had burst on the world scene by stopping long-reigning 140-pound champion Kostya Tszyu in June 2005. But after one more fight, he wanted to come to the United States, and he signed a fat three-fight contract with HBO.

In his first two bouts under the deal, Hatton didn't live up to the hype. Although he moved up to welterweight and captured a title by outpointing Luis Collazo in May 2006, it was a struggle.

He returned to junior welterweight Jan. 20 and took back his old alphabet belt by outpointing Juan Urango by a wide margin. But, again, it was a ragged and disappointing performance.

Finally, against his best opponent since Tszyu, Hatton was impressive.

"I really worked hard on this performance," he said. "My first two fights in the U.S. weren't my best. This was much better. I felt very strong. I beat a top-10 pound-for-pound fighter, and I knocked him out in four rounds."

At the time of the knockout, Hatton led on all three scorecards. Two judges had him winning all three completed rounds, and the third judge had him winning two.

It was a dominant performance from Hatton, who appeared stronger from the outset as he knocked Castillo back with every solid punch he landed.

"In my heart, after the first round, I felt it wasn't gong to last long," said Hatton, who dedicated the victory to Diego "Chico" Corrales, the former junior lightweight and lightweight champion who died in a motorcycle accident in Las Vegas on May 7 -- two years to the day after his epic 10th-round knockout victory against Castillo.

That loss surely took a lot out of Castillo. Although he beat Corrales in a rematch, he struggled badly with weight, missing 135 pounds for that fight. He missed it again for their rubber match in June 2006, which was canceled because of Castillo's inability to make weight.

That led the Nevada commission to fine Castillo $250,000 and suspend him for the rest of the year.

He returned to fight on the same card as Hatton on Jan. 20, edging Herman Ngoudjo via split decision. Castillo attributed his lackluster performance in that bout to disinterest because he wasn't fighting a name opponent.

However, Hatton is one of boxing's biggest names and Castillo, 33, still didn't show much against him, either.

"From the very first bell I felt stronger than him," said Hatton, 28, who earned at least $2.5 million. "I trained for the best Castillo and I think that showed with the performance."

Hatton entered the ring to his traditional rocking version of "Blue Moon" and was flanked by junior lightweight star Marco Antonio Barrera and British soccer star Wayne Rooney.

Hatton was credited with landing 81 of 220 punches (37 percent), according to CompuBox statistics. Castillo landed just 58 of 192 (30 percent).

For Castillo, the loss was the nadir of a difficult year. Besides the suspension and the hefty fine that left him in a difficult financial position, he entered training camp just two weeks after the sudden death of younger brother Cesar from a brain aneurysm and not long after the sudden death of Corrales, his friendly rival.

Castillo's financial problems aren't over, either. Out of his $500,000 purse, he has to pay promoter Bob Arum back $100,000 he was advanced to cover the remainder of the fine from Nevada officials as well as a $125,000 advance he got from Arum. After he pays his corner, taxes and sanctioning fees, he won't be left with much.

Hatton, however, can look forward to more big-money fights. He'd like to face pound-for-pound king Floyd Mayweather Jr., whom he has taunted for his boring style.

Hatton did it again after dispatching Castillo, who had given Mayweather the toughest fight of his career in their first bout several years ago.

"There was more action in the four rounds of this fight than Floyd has showed in his whole career," Hatton said.

Zuniga upsets Echols

On the undercard, super middleweight Fulgencio Zuniga (19-2-1, 16 KOs) scored a mild upset, recording a knockdown and winning a lopsided 10-round decision against Antwun Echols (31-7-3, 27 KOs) in a hard-hitting battle of former world title challengers.

Zuniga, of Colombia, wobbled and hurt Echols throughout the fight, which he won by scores of 98-88, 97-89 and 97-90.

After they both lost points in the sixth round -- Echols for losing his mouthpiece and Zuniga for a low blow -- Zuniga drove Echols to the canvas with a pair of left hooks in the seventh.

Echols recovered, but referee Jay Nady was looking closely and appeared close to stopping the fight. However, Echols was able to throw just enough punches to stay in the fight.

In the eighth, Echols opened a bad cut over Zuniga's right eye, but Zuniga's corner did a good job of stopping the flow of the blood for the final two rounds.

"He was a tough fighter, but I won the fight," said Zuniga, who lost a 2003 junior middleweight title bout to Daniel Santos. "I had him hurt a few times, and I was never hurt."

Echols is 35, so his run as a serious contender is probably over. The longtime contender fell to 0-2-2 in his past four bouts. Earlier in his career, he lost a pair of middleweight title bouts to Bernard Hopkins and a super middleweight title fight to Anthony Mundine.

" Welterweight Matthew Hatton (31-3-1, 12 KOs), Ricky's younger brother, notched a 12-round unanimous decision against late substitute Edwin Vazquez (22-10-2, 8 KOs).

Hatton outworked Vazquez but suffered a scare moments before the end of the 11th round when Vazquez knocked him down.

Hatton was not hurt, and it appeared more like a shove than an authentic knockdown on video replays.

The judges had it 117-111, 115-113 and 115-112.

Dan Rafael is the boxing writer for ESPN.com.